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December 14, 1997 No. 50 (477)

Voice - News

No Place for Nationalism

Marie-Therese Huguet, laureate of this year's Person of Reconciliation title awarded by the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, talks to Tomasz Oljasz. (excerpts)

You say that Poland is your second home. Why?

When I was here for the first time, 40 years ago, I was very impressed by the hospitality of Poles and maybe, shall we say the youthfulness of hearts in Poland. And the second feature of Poles that attracted me was their strength and courage. I often saw very strong people in the land under communist dominion. Obviously, I have not seen everything in Poland. I do not know very many people here, only those active in Catholic Intelligentsia Clubs (KIK) and people interested in Jewish-Polish problems.

How did your activities in Christian-Jewish relations start?

I realized in about 1960 that Jesus was a Jew. This was of crucial importance, and also that Jews are important to the Church. I spent six months in a kibbutz in Israel to get to know them. In Israel many people told me about the terrible persecution of Jews by Christians in the past. It was a shocking discovery for me; it is really contrary to the Gospel. The first thing I did was to ask my Jewish friends: "Please forgive my Christian people." Then I studied the question historically and theologically to learn why these deviations from faith were possible. I wrote some articles on this issue so as to further understand anti-Semitism, and to give Christians strength against this temptation-I am sure it is from the devil. If we do not realize exactly what a sin, what a lie anti-Semitism is, we can embrace it unconsciously. But a lot of Christians do not know enough about it. Part of my work is ecumenical, I give seminars at many places, institutes, universities-in France, but also, for example, in Russia. Reconciliation is much more difficult in Russia, as nationalism is much stronger there than in France or Poland. Nationalism is by necessity anti-Semitism. What is nationalism? It is not patriotism, which is positive. Nationalism holds that a given nation is messianic. According to the Bible, this is not possible. Only the Jewish people, and no other nation, is messianic. If a nation lays claim to this, it wants to replace Judaism and do away with it. Only Israel and the Church are messianic, as we are both the children of God in the Church or in the Synagogue. Not because we are Polish or French or Russian, it is on another level. I believe that cooperation, for instance, by supporting human rights, can bring us closer together and help us understand each other.

What are the main points of similarity between Christians and Jews that allow for reconciliation on a theological level?

We have the same faith in one God, the creator of Heaven and Earth. We have the same commandments. But, of course, there are tremendous differences concerning faith in Christ. If we meet and talk, I am sure understanding will come gradually.

What is the main obstacle to this?

The main obstacle is the history of sins of Christians against the Jews, because in their memory our sins are always present. We have forgotten, but not they. I think John Paul II's instruction that we ask them for forgiveness, that we say "We are sorry," is very important.

Is Pope John Paul II making a breakthrough in this area?

I think John Paul II has made many wise moves and relations are now improving. It is necessary to change attitudes not only of bishops and those in the hierarchy, but of all people. But pseudo-theology was widespread before and it is still present in plenty of minds, including those of some bishops, so it is necessary to pray and study and stress that anti-Semitism is against the Gospel, it is not in the Bible.

Do you think Polish-Jewish relations have changed since 1989, when communism was ousted?

I hope so. I can't say precisely because I don't live here, but it seems to me that now you have freedom; you can meet and speak among yourselves and with Jews. I am sure reconciliation is possible in Poland because I have already seen many initiatives, within the KIKs, for example. I hope people will understand that not all Poles are anti-Semites. There are examples in Polish history of good relations between all citizens, Christians and Jews. And now young people-it is your chance to act.

Do you think that such statements like Father Henryk Jankowski's [who said that Poles were afraid of Jewish influence in the newly elected Polish government] influence Poland's image worldwide?

Yes, we know about it from newspapers, in France, and in the rest of Europe. I hope it is an isolated incident. We cannot forget that anti-Semitism is a sin; it is not merely an injustice, a lie or hatred. It is deeper; it is blasphemy, because Jews, like Christians, are people of God. Everything aimed against Jews is against God and ourselves. If we understand that a nation is one thing and religion another, it is possible to have a multiplicity of religions within one nation. Citizenship is not defined by religion, but by solidarity, a common culture, language and enemies.

At what point will the reconciliation process be successful; when will the results be clearly visible?

Nobody knows that. We can only work and pray for it to happen as soon as possible.

Marie-Therese Huguet was consecrated in the lay Ordo Virginum assembly. She taught philosophy for seven years, then worked in a factory for 17 more. Afterwards, she headed a diocesan mental institution. In 1958-59 she worked as a French teacher at the Catholic University of Lublin. During Poland's martial law period, she organized convoys of assistance for Poles.